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Childish writing & plot
on 9 January 2017
I read a lot of Niven's books when I was younger. On an impulse I decided to read this again. I wish I hadn't bothered.
The writing style and the plot are extremely childish. Others have given negative reviews and been criticised for lack of detail. I'll try to give a few specific examples - but there is SO wrong with this book!
The characters are incredibly two-dimensional. The ship's captain has an old scar on his nose that he strokes when he is thinking or troubled - that's the authors' idea of "character". There is a Russian admiral who talks perfect English except for omitting "a" and "the" plus throwing in an occasional "da". Being Russian, he is gruff all the time. There is a merchant who is a muslim. He goes around saying things like "beard of the prophet" all the time. Also being a merchant he only ever thinks about money. There are various Scots characters with silly accents, no doubt based on Scotty from Star Trek. All these accents and racial stereotypes despite being set a thousand years in the future when humans live all over the Galaxy!
There is only one female character. She is repeatedly described as "demure". She also giggles a lot. Eventually she falls in love with one of the male characters. The way they talk to each other had me cringing. It was like the book was written by a 12 year old schoolboy.
Also there are big differences between human and alien reproduction. She explains human birth control to the aliens, but informs them that "nice girls don't do that". Yes, really!!! The authors hide behind the idea that the cultures of some human planets are quite prudish - but you get the distinct sense throughout that it is THEY who are like overgrown teenagers in this regard. It was written in the 70s but the values are more like the 50s or earlier.
The writing grated in all sorts of ways. One thing was that no one ever smiles - they alway "grin". This is especially bizarre when a character "grins" secretly to themselves! Likewise no one ever seems to speak calmly. They always "snarl", "growl", "sneer" etc. Even when discussing banal topics. "Feral" expressions abound. It was like they had used a thesaurus to make their writing more "interesting" without really understanding the words they use.
The plot itself is pretty daft. It includes absurdities like a crew member allowing some alien creatures to escape (from a totally unguarded room!!!) then worrying whether or not to "bother" the captain about it because they are "only pets".
I slogged on to the end. I wished I hadn't bothered. This really is bad.
FYI - I also ordered a copy of The Integral Trees. The writing is sometimes a bit annoying [and his descriptions of anything to do with women or sex are awful] but is is MUCH better than this.